The seminary began its academic year on 12th January this year. In one of his addresses, Father Rector, (Rev. Fr. William Goh) reminded us that the word “vocation” comes from the Latin vocare, which means “to call”. When someone comes to me and says that he is interested in becoming a priest, one of the most important questions I ask is, “How do you know?” It might seem like a callous way of reacting to someone who has come forward to offer himself to the Lord. However, the one thing that we need to know regarding someone who wants to be a priest is to discern ‘the call’.
Every person who hears a call needs to discern what that call is. However, the call of God is only one part of the equation. How one responds to the call is also important. It is not as simple as just saying, “Yes!” It includes the question of God’s will and our own will. The kind of priest one will become depends on how we respond.
I was troubled by what Jesus said, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Mt 22:14) However, since becoming a seminary formator and being involved in promotion of priestly vocations, I am beginning to understand what Jesus might mean. A priest is not only called, he has to be chosen. There must be criteria for choosing from those who are called. The latest instruction from the Congregation of Catholic Education gives us the guidelines for using psychology to screen candidates for the priesthood. The psychological screening is just one of the many means that are used for the “choosing”. The combination of different screening processes helps formators and the bishop (or religious superior) to “choose” the right candidate. The results of all the screenings are confidential. In many cases, it is prudent to keep these results from the candidates.
As a result, many get angry for difficult decisions that have to be made. Seminary formators are often chided for dropping a “good” candidate when priestly ordinations are few. Confidentiality prevents these formators for justifying their decision. Of course the formators give counsel to the bishop, and if the bishop cannot trust the formators, it is his responsiblity to replace them.
Coming back to what I was saying above, if God calls a man to the priesthood and he treats it as a career, can he be a good priest? Of course, sinful as we are, we can still change. Trusting in the Holy Spirit, formators search and discern for ways to help the man to purify his intentions. In the end, if the Holy Spirit shows the formators that the man who is called is not really interested in responding in the right way, should he be “chosen” ore “elected” to the priesthood? How should the formators interpret what is shown by the Spirit? I believe the answer is obvious.